This is a curated selection of highlights from Crime Story Daily this week.
On the criminal justice policy front: In his inaugural address on Wednesday, President Joe Biden declared the “rise of political extremism [and] white supremacy” a looming and urgent threat, vowing to “confront” and “defeat” domestic terrorism. A piece from Politico outlines several possible paths of action for the Biden administration in its fight against homegrown extremism. The Intercept reports that as of this week, at least 170 people are under investigation in connection to the January 6 assault on the US Capitol. Officials say they expect that number to “grow to the hundreds in the next coming weeks” – a criminal probe that the top federal prosecutor in Washington, DC, has described as “unprecedented, not only in FBI history, but probably DOJ history.” The Wall Street Journal reports that this week, the first conspiracy charges were filed in connection with the Capitol siege, while a piece from Lawfare focuses on the controversial “felony murder” charge.
In other news, The Appeal reports from Illinois, where state lawmakers passed a sweeping omnibus criminal justice reform bill in the waning hours of their lame-duck session earlier this week. WBEZ outlines some key provisions included in the bill: as well as abolishing cash bail in Illinois, the new legislation would end prison gerrymandering, increase transparency and accountability in the state prison system, ban chokeholds, and place other limits on the use of deadly force.
In muckraker/watchdog reporting: Several pieces this week centered on the ongoing coronavirus crisis in America’s prisons and jails. NBC reports that during the pandemic, corrections officials in some jurisdictions have deployed technology to fill the gaps left by COVID-19, delivering services in ways that might have seemed unthinkable even a year ago. From outdoor vocational programs to art classes taught over Zoom, these changes have been a lifeline for incarcerated people craving opportunities for self-improvement and contact with loved ones on the outside. But they come with a risk: families of prisoners fear that corrections officials will use the technology to replace in-person interactions even after the pandemic ends. And The Marshall Project reports that even as prisons and jails have proved hotspots of COVID-19, the pandemic is also posing new challenges for people who leave them – and their communities on the outside. While some states have accelerated the release of prisoners to stem the virus’ spread, relatively few are systematically testing or quarantining people before they are released. In turn, reentry facilities and probation and parole systems across the country are scrambling, often with few resources or safety protocols, to prevent further spread.
Other pieces focus on the fallout from the Capitol insurrection. Many have noted a remarkable contrast between the excessive policing of last summer’s Black Lives Matter demonstrations – which saw peaceful protests met with batons, rubber bullets, and tear gas – and law enforcement’s seeming absence from the January 6 siege. A trend suggested in photos is now supported by data: a Guardian analysis found that police were three times more likely to use force against left-wing protesters than right-wing ones – regardless of whether or not the protests remained peaceful. A piece from Slate highlights the role of local sheriffs. Some 90% of American sheriffs are white men, and in recent years they have become strongly affiliated with white supremacist groups. Sheriffs have also played a key role in nurturing extrajudicial militia movements, joined by a shared interest in gun rights and “masculine grievance.” And finally, a piece from The Nation explores the long history of alliance between right-wing vigilante groups and American law enforcement.
In complex crime storytelling: A piece from The Atlantic goes deep into the world of the “boogaloo bois.” Half far-right extremist faction, half “absurdist internet meme,” the boogaloos are hard to characterize – and hard to take seriously. Some are likely just joking when they “shit-post” about shooting cops or killing government officials. But others seem serious. Boogaloo bois have shown up heavily armed (and in their trademark Hawaiian shirts) at protests and state capitols. They’ve allegedly killed law-enforcement officers, talked about throwing Molotov cocktails at cops, and plotted to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Like so much else about the Trump era, the boogaloo “movement” is simultaneously ridiculous and terrifying – and it’s hard to know how seriously to take the boogaloo threat. Wired explores the sprawling “tactical shooting” industry teaching American civilians how to fight like Special Ops. Once the purview of law enforcement officers and military operators, these kinds of tactical skills are increasingly being passed down to ordinary, armed Americans by a vast and diffuse industry of gun ranges and private facilities. But by “preparing” civilians for violence at home, they may be calling it into being: “training for combat implies an enemy, and… militarized civilians, like militarized law enforcement, increasingly identify that enemy among their fellow Americans.” And a piece from GQ follows “the epic hunt for one of the world’s most wanted men.” Félicien Kabuga, a multimillionaire Rwandan businessman, helped unleash the 1994 genocide that left nearly a million people dead. Then he vanished. Kabuga would remain hidden for more than two decades – until recently, when United Nations war crimes detectives picked up his trail and started closing in.
In culture/true crime: The Atlantic highlights “MLK/FBI,” a new documentary about the Bureau’s surveillance of Martin Luther King. With the aid of declassified documents, director Sam Pollard chronicles J. Edgar Hoover’s attempts to stifle the burgeoning civil-rights movement through a coordinated effort to spy on and discredit King – “part of a long-running effort to keep Black Americans from acquiring institutional power.” The University of Denver’s Prison Arts Initiative presents A/LIVE INSIDE, a “virtual showcase of artists and their stories from Colorado’s prisons.” In a series of short videos, incarcerated artists share their own stories as well as theatrical performance, song and dance, visual art, and music. And a piece from the Hollywood Reporter puts Garrett Bradley, director of the Sundance-winning documentary “Time,” in conversation with Tommy Oliver, the filmmaker behind HBO’s “40 Years a Prisoner.” The two discuss their creative processes, the importance of telling stories about mass incarceration, and the challenges of documenting life on the inside.